Miller’s poignant ‘Ballad’ has perfect pitch

“The Ballad of Jack

and Rose”

Elevation Filmworks

Written and Directed by Rebecca Miller

Starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Camilla Belle and Catherine Keener

Rated R/111 min

Opened April 11, 2005

Four out of four stars

“The Ballad of Jack and Rose” begins with a shot of an insect pollinating a flower. Wisps of wild grass blow in the wind. Waves crash. The air is charged with angst. The times, they are a-changin’.

Such visual beauty is only the backdrop to the heart-breaking story of Jack and Rose (Daniel Day-Lewis and Camilla Belle), father and daughter living alone on what used to be an island commune for peace-loving, acid-dropping hippies (like Jack).

Jack fills the hours tending his garden, feeding the animals and lying on his back, cloud-spotting with his adoring, teenage daughter. He comes from Scotland; she was born and raised on the island.

But all is not well. Jack is dying. He fears for Rose, who has no friends, no formal education and no experience in the real world. She’s a young woman now and her womanly loins ache for…whom? Her father is the only man in her life. It’s a recipe for disaster and Jack knows it.

He brings some “guests” to the island, including his lover, Kathleen (Catherine Keener), and her two shaggy-haired sons (Paul Dano and Ryan McDonald). His decision is the catalyst for Rose’s messy bloom. She gets confused and dangerously jealous.

“The Ballad of Jack and Rose” is written and directed by Rebecca Miller, daughter of playwright Arthur and wife of Day-Lewis. It’s an astonishing film, with all the depth of a good novel. The story is told with bold visuals, like when Rose literally releases a snake in the house. Obvious metaphor? Yes. Effective? Definitely.

Jack is a stubborn, selfish man who just now realizes the error of his ways. Day-Lewis plays Jack with the sort of commitment he’s known for. The authority he manages to bring to such a frail, downward-spiraling character is Oscar-worthy.

Camilla Belle (previously seen feeding herself to those piranha-saurs in Spielberg’s “The Lost World”) plays Rose as an innocent young woman whose mind has been forever warped by isolation and her father’s stubbornness. It’s a great performance and the role of a young lifetime for Belle.

If it sounds like “The Ballad of Jack and Rose” is a sobering drama, well, good-it is, but it has its fair share of humor: Growing up is a dramatic, funny, horrifying experience, something this movie understands implicitly.

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